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Fulton County Gospel News

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A Biblical Look at Social Drinking Part 1

By Lee Moses

No one with a modicum of sense would deny that drinking alcoholic beverages has tremendously devastated society. Countless homes have been broken, careers have been ruined, and lives have been ended as a result of drinking. And no one with a modicum of Bible knowledge would deny that God condemns drunkenness (Deuteronomy 21:20- 21; 1 Samuel 1:13-16; Isaiah 5:11; Luke 21:34; 1 Corinthians 5:11; 6:10; Galatians 5:21). So it is not only temporal lives, but also eternal souls, that have been and continue to be destroyed by the consumption of alcoholic beverages.
 
Nonetheless, there has been an increased push for the acceptance of "social drinking." While drinking alcoholic beverages causes people to become obnoxious, belligerent, and destructive; advocates maintain that moderate drinking which causes people to become light-hearted and convivial is acceptable, and perhaps advisable. They have come up with several arguments in favor of "social drinking," some of which attempt to find Biblical support. But what do the facts—particularly the Biblical facts—have to say about these arguments in favor of "social drinking"? This issue of the Fulton County Gospel News will begin to consider the main arguments made for "social drinking" in the light of the facts—particularly the Biblical facts.
 
"Moderate Drinking is Better Than Excessive Drinking"
 
This is perhaps the simplest argument for "social drinking," and is a true statement in and of itself. But just because moderate drinking is better than excessive drinking does not prove that it is right (See "Just Because It's Better Than Worse Doesn't Mean It's Good," FCGN, July 2006). One could probably argue successfully that cocaine use is better than heroin use, but that would not prove that cocaine use is a remotely good idea. And the Scriptures teach against the recreational use of alcohol, even in moderation.
 
Paul wrote by inspiration, "And be not drunk with wine, wherein is excess; but be filled with the Spirit" (Ephesians 5:18). Paul certainly does not condone "social drinking" when he condemns drunkenness. "Be not drunk" has the idea behind it, "do not even begin the process of becoming drunk."[1] All one has to do to begin the process is to take that first sip. Upon its first sip, alcohol immediately begins its process of affecting judgment and other aspects of brain function. As Dr. Frederick Lemere of the University of Washington School of Medicine noted, some of the first brain cells affected by alcohol are "those subserving the higher cerebral levels of will power and judgment. The brain reserve is gradually and insidiously whittled away." When one intentionally clouds his judgment and "whittles away" his brain reserve, how seriously can he be taking the Biblical injunction to be sober, alert, and watchful? (Matthew 24:42-51; 1 Corinthians 16:13; 1 Thessalonians 5:6-8; Revelation 3:2-3). Some ridicule the notion, but saying that a person who drinks one drink is "one drink drunk" is a fact. Every Biblical passage that condemns drunkenness condemns even such slight drunkenness.
 
Some things simply cannot be done in moderation. Again note what Paul wrote in Ephesians 5:18: "And be not drunk with wine, wherein is excess" (emphasis LM). There is a pronoun underlying the word "wherein" (thus the New King James Version's rendering, "in which"), and a pronoun refers back to a noun with which it agrees in gender and number.[2]  In this case, the pronoun refers most naturally to "wine."  So the Bible teaches that "excess," or "reckless abandon" or "debauchery,"[3] is in the (alcoholic) wine itself. Something that is intrinsically excessive cannot be done in moderation. Can you imagine someone saying, "I shoot heroin in moderation," or, "I snort coke in moderation"? It sounds silly on the face of it, does it not? However, because of a false respectability that has been imputed to alcoholic beverages in our culture, many people fail to realize that it is just as silly to say, "I drink alcohol in moderation."
 
Some advocate drinking in less quantity because they believe it is a preventative to drinking in greater quantity. One professed Christian college recently changed its longstanding policy, now allowing students to drink off- campus. To justify this change, an administrator said, "Unfortunately, some of our students participate in dangerous and illegal drinking on campus and around campus, and we're not effectively addressing it."[4] Apparently a primary means of addressing the problem of dangerous drinking is to allow safer drinking. Beer companies, in an effort to displace any blame they might receive for enabling alcohol-related deaths, have long broadcast messages such as "drink responsibly" and "use a designated driver." It is sad when those who profess to promote Christian principles come closer to the message of the beer companies than that of the word of God.
 
The wisdom of Proverbs warns against the effects of alcohol. But to avoid such pitfalls, Proverbs does not say, "Drink responsibly." Proverbs does not say, "Use a designated driver." Proverbs says, "Look not thou upon the wine when it is red, when it giveth his colour in the cup, when it moveth itself aright" (23:31). On other words, do not even entertain the thought of taking that first sip. Wise words—and as Paul wrote immediately before he also condemned the use of alcohol in any quantity, "Wherefore be ye not unwise, but understanding what the will of the Lord is" (Ephesians 5:17). How could anyone believe that the will of the Lord is for him to "get a little buzzed"?
 
Once the door has been cracked to drinking in smaller quantities, the floodgates have inescapably been opened wide to drinking in larger quantities as well. No one has ever been guilty of binge drinking who did not take a first sip. No one has ever become an alcoholic who did not take a first sip. If some people have a genetic propensity to alcoholism, as it is commonly held, how can one justify allowing such people to take that first, potentially life-ruining, sip?  Experts speak of "gateway drugs," less harmful drugs that eventually lead many of the users thereof toward more dangerous drugs. There could not be a more obvious gateway than that from moderate drinking to excessive drinking. Many who are already drinkers pass through this gateway regularly: How many times has someone gone to a bar after work, intending to have only a drink or two, and end up staying for several hours and several drinks beyond what anyone would call "moderate"?  Similarly, many persons who decide to take their first drink never envision where it might lead them. No alcoholic arrived at his present predicament by design.
 
There can be little doubt that a relaxed attitude toward drinking alcoholic beverages in any quantity can have far-reaching consequences:
The evidence indicates that teen-age drinking is a reflection of the drinking habits of adults and of the attitudes of adults towards drinking. The fact that most adults regard alcohol as a recreational beverage rather than a drug is reflected in the attitudes of the teen-agers. Only when adults start regarding alcohol as a toxic drug can a sound, effective alcohol education for America's youth begin (emphasis in original).[5]
And it would be naïve to assert that teenagers are the only ones affected by such a mindset (compare with 1 Corinthians 15:32-33). The New Testament strongly condemns those who would lay a stumblingblock before others, who would cause others to go astray (Matthew 18:6-7; Romans 14:13). Condoning the consumption of alcohol in any amount may well be the stumblingblock that causes lives to be ruined and souls to be lost that otherwise would not.
 
Is "moderate" drinking better than excessive drinking?  Perhaps. But this by no means makes it a good idea; neither does it provide Biblical authority for it, nor negate the Biblical prohibition against it.
 
Next month, we will continue to examine the main arguments made for "social drinking," beginning with the "social custom" argument.


[1] "[M]ethuskM signifies 'to make drunk, or to grow drunk' (an inceptive verb, marking the process or the state [of be(com)ing drunk, LM])" (emphases LM). W.E. Vine, Merrill F. Unger, and William White, Jr. Vine's Complete Expository Dictionary of Old and New Testament Words (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1996 printing), p. 186.
[2] J. Gresham Machen, New Testament Greek for Beginners (Unicoi, TN: The Trinity Foundation, 2000), p. 47.
[3] AsMtia, in Bauer, Danker, Arndt, and Gingrich, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature, 3rd ed. (Chicago: Univ. of Chicago Press, 2000), p. 148.
[4] Lauren Sutton, "University plans to amend alcohol policy for 2008-09," ACU Optimist April 11, 2008. Available http://media.www.acuoptimist.com/media/storage/paper891/news/2008/04/11/New s/University.Plans.To.Amend.Alcohol.Policy.For.200809-3319818.shtml.
[5] Edmond G. Addeo and Jovita Reichling Addeo, Why Our Children Drink (Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice-Hall, Inc., 1975), p. 71.

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